CHICAGO (CN) — A Seventh Circuit panel heard arguments Friday over whether a Wisconsin law barring convicted sex offenders from changing their name amounts to free speech infringement.
The underlying lawsuit was brought in Milwaukee federal court in May 2019 by Karen Krebs, a transgender woman from Kenosha, Wisconsin, who cannot change her name due to a 1992 conviction which required her to register as a sex offender.
Wisconsin law makes it a Class H felony for anyone who is required to register as a sex offender to legally change their name, criminal penalties for which range up to a $10,000 fine and six years in prison.
Krebs, whose forename given at birth is Kenneth, contended that her First Amendment rights are violated by being denied the ability to change her name in order to suit her identity, as she has not gone by her given name since she came out as transgender in 1999.
Her complaint, which named Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley as a defendant, claimed that not being able to go by the name that comports with her self-identity causes her distress and embarrassment and creates confusion whenever she applies for a job, goes to the doctor or manages her finances, forcing her to explain the fact that she is transgender.
U.S. District Court Judge J.P. Stadtmueller, a Ronald Reagan appointee, did not feel Krebs had met the burden of proof to show that Wisconsin’s name-change statute violates her free speech rights and granted summary judgment to Graveley in March of this year.